The Body’s Wisdom

Why faith needs the physical to be spiritual

Of course it was a Monday morning when I hit snooze a dozen times, pulling the covers further over my head for each nine-minute reprieve. That it was Monday made the morning worse, but it wasn’t all Monday’s fault. I was waiting for test results from the doctor; the stakes were high. I’d been praying all morning in that desperate, groaning sort of way. “Oh, Lord,” I said, and, “Please!” But my despair wouldn’t budge.

The alarm sounded again; this time I got up. Though nothing changed but my position, rising also lifted my spirit a little. As I went about morning rituals—making the bed, getting dressed, brushing my teeth, washing my face—the tightness in my chest began to loosen. The movement forward down the stairs and toward the kitchen offered momentum to my soul. “You can do this,” I told myself, body leading, spirit following.

I prepared a cup of coffee on the Keurig and sat down with an open Bible as I have thousands of times before. I don’t remember for sure what words I read—likely the promises of Psalm 18, a favorite in similar circumstances. But the act of opening, reading, meditating, remembering—it was enough. Hope returned, not just spiritually or emotionally, but bodily. My breathing slowed, my shoulders dropped, and the tight lump in my throat softened. When the text message from my doctor’s office arrived giving me the “all clear,” tears came even before I felt relief in my soul.

My faith in Jesus has always been a spiritual experience: I pray to an unseen God and believe in abstract concepts.

My faith has always been an intellectual experience: I study ancient texts and know truth despite obvious mystery.

But my faith has, my whole life, been a physical or bodily experience, too: How I see and feel and hear and taste and experience the world around me affects how I understand and connect with Jesus.

The incarnation revealed God’s priority for this type of embodied spiritual life. In Christ, God became present to us in new ways. For centuries, the Lord’s faithful knew Him primarily through oil, basin, and lamp; through lamb, ox, and ram; through outer court, altar, and temple.

And then, when Jesus took on human flesh and walked and interacted with the world, He borrowed from His physical surroundings to teach His disciples about faith, love, and the kingdom of God. A fig tree, a storm, a blind man, a wedding, a field, a coin—real things Jesus encountered became the makings of His parables, a way for Him to use metaphor to convey truth. Hunger, thirst, fatigue, pain: The bodily urges and sensations He and His followers all experienced provided context for His teaching.

If we’ll allow them, our bodies become wonderful tools in our desire to grow into Christlikeness.

What’s more, when Jesus healed the sick, exorcised demons and raised the dead, He didn’t just save bodies, He often used His own body to bring about the miracle—real touching, covering, laying on of hands, and lifting.

Knowing this, it’s tempting to believe He intended to relieve us only of our bodily burdens. But our faith talk often centers more on knowing, being, feeling: These are all spiritual, emotional, and intellectual words. When we imagine our future resurrection bodies, we often forget that though they are “imperishable,” they may well carry the scars and wounds of this life, just as Jesus’ body did (1 Cor. 15:42; Luke 24:39). And our current bodies? We often feel shame, embarrassment, and frustration with them. We equate them with sin and death. But that’s not what Scripture teaches—and not what God intends. If we’ll allow them, our bodies become wonderful tools in our desire to grow into Christlikeness.

Last Sunday, our church celebrated Communion. I watched as the pastors broke the “body” and poured out the “blood.” I saw the servers go forward, partake themselves, and then prepare to feed the congregation. I knew I should be examining myself for this sacred meal, but I had gotten too caught up in what was happening before me, and suddenly it was time to go forward.

“Lord forgive me ...” I began as my family walked toward the front of the church. But we had to search for a place on the kneeler and then scoot down so there was room for everyone. Still not yet in the right frame of mind, I fell to my knees, opening my hands to receive. In that moment, the change of posture finally prepared me for repentance. The texture of the bread and the taste of the grape juice together on my tongue drew my heart and mind to the foot of the cross. And my soul was filled with gratitude and love.

In these moments, and indeed in all of life, we need to commit ourselves to living a fully embodied existence—letting our movements, habits, and limitations lead us toward understanding, where sometimes our minds are not yet prepared to go. If we don’t, we may miss the kingdom lessons in the things and people and activities all around us, here and now. Because even with all the body’s weaknesses, it is the dwelling place of God—not a curse, but a blessing. A reason to give Him thanks and praise.


Illustrations by Jeff Gregory

Related Topics:  Intimacy with God

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What happens to my notes

1 I love You, O LORD, my strength."

2 The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

3 I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, And I am saved from my enemies.

4 The cords of death encompassed me, And the torrents of ungodliness terrified me.

5 The cords of Sheol surrounded me; The snares of death confronted me.

6 In my distress I called upon the LORD, And cried to my God for help; He heard my voice out of His temple, And my cry for help before Him came into His ears.

7 Then the earth shook and quaked; And the foundations of the mountains were trembling And were shaken, because He was angry.

8 Smoke went up out of His nostrils, And fire from His mouth devoured; Coals were kindled by it.

9 He bowed the heavens also, and came down With thick darkness under His feet.

10 He rode upon a cherub and flew; And He sped upon the wings of the wind.

11 He made darkness His hiding place, His canopy around Him, Darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies.

12 From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds, Hailstones and coals of fire.

13 The LORD also thundered in the heavens, And the Most High uttered His voice, Hailstones and coals of fire.

14 He sent out His arrows, and scattered them, And lightning flashes in abundance, and routed them.

15 Then the channels of water appeared, And the foundations of the world were laid bare At Your rebuke, O LORD, At the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.

16 He sent from on high, He took me; He drew me out of many waters.

17 He delivered me from my strong enemy, And from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.

18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity, But the LORD was my stay.

19 He brought me forth also into a broad place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me.

20 The LORD has rewarded me according to my righteousness; According to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me.

21 For I have kept the ways of the LORD, And have not wickedly departed from my God.

22 For all His ordinances were before me, And I did not put away His statutes from me.

23 I was also blameless with Him, And I kept myself from my iniquity.

24 Therefore the LORD has recompensed me according to my righteousness, According to the cleanness of my hands in His eyes.

25 With the kind You show Yourself kind; With the blameless You show Yourself blameless;

26 With the pure You show Yourself pure, And with the crooked You show Yourself astute.

27 For You save an afflicted people, But haughty eyes You abase.

28 For You light my lamp; The LORD my God illumines my darkness.

29 For by You I can run upon a troop; And by my God I can leap over a wall.

30 As for God, His way is blameless; The word of the LORD is tried; He is a shield to all who take refuge in Him.

31 For who is God, but the LORD? And who is a rock, except our God,

32 The God who girds me with strength And makes my way blameless?

33 He makes my feet like hinds' feet, And sets me upon my high places.

34 He trains my hands for battle, So that my arms can bend a bow of bronze.

35 You have also given me the shield of Your salvation, And Your right hand upholds me; And Your gentleness makes me great.

36 You enlarge my steps under me, And my feet have not slipped.

37 I pursued my enemies and overtook them, And I did not turn back until they were consumed.

38 I shattered them, so that they were not able to rise; They fell under my feet.

39 For You have girded me with strength for battle; You have subdued under me those who rose up against me.

40 You have also made my enemies turn their backs to me, And I destroyed those who hated me.

41 They cried for help, but there was none to save, Even to the LORD, but He did not answer them.

42 Then I beat them fine as the dust before the wind; I emptied them out as the mire of the streets.

43 You have delivered me from the contentions of the people; You have placed me as head of the nations; A people whom I have not known serve me.

44 As soon as they hear, they obey me; Foreigners submit to me.

45 Foreigners fade away, And come trembling out of their fortresses.

46 The LORD lives, and blessed be my rock; And exalted be the God of my salvation,

47 The God who executes vengeance for me, And subdues peoples under me.

48 He delivers me from my enemies; Surely You lift me above those who rise up against me; You rescue me from the violent man.

49 Therefore I will give thanks to You among the nations, O LORD, And I will sing praises to Your name.

50 He gives great deliverance to His king, And shows lovingkindness to His anointed, To David and his descendants forever.

42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body;

39 See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; touch Me and see, for a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have."

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